Max Weber, an heir of the Enlightenment, wrote about “‘progress’, to which science belongs as a link and motive force”’ when considering the limitations of scientific rationalism. In detaching science from the strictures of reason, he had come full circle. This quote helps frame Alexander Statman’s ambitious essay, A Global Enlightenment: Western Progress and Chinese Science, a book about the reception of Chinese ideas on science or, rather, natural philosophy, in France during the late Enlightenment.

A discovery in the history of art is a discovery like any other, so wrote in 1913 Friedrich Perzynski, a German art dealer, in Hunt for the Gods, an account of his exploits in China the year before. This was a time of turmoil. A dynasty had just fallen and the capital Beijing was humming with activity, as artefacts from all over the country were resurfacing in the open or in back rooms. Foreign archeologists, dealers and curators, who had been coming in growing numbers, marveled at the remnants of a civilization that only then was starting to be known.

A photograph captures an instant frozen in time; old photographs therefore take on a higher significance precisely as a record of the past. Photography was born roughly at the same time that Hong Kong entered world history in the early 1840s; the emerging British colony soon attracted photographers of international repute on their first trips to Asia, and local photography studios were already being set up in the 1850s.

Here at last a book to unearth the untold story of Chinese porcelain in Spain at the time when both countries first started trading. Early relations between China and Spain remains an understudied subject, and the glaring absence of a monograph on Chinese porcelain in Spain has finally been redressed with the magisterial Chinese Porcelain in Habsburg Spain by Cinta Krahe. Habsburg Spain (1516-1700) coincides with the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing (1644-1911), a period of great accomplishment in Chinese ceramics.

Andrés de Urdaneta is a name that few other than specialist historians will immediately recognise. He was one of the last of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers and navigators from the Iberian peninsula whose voyages resulted in redrawing the globe in more or less the form we know it today. Christopher Columbus has a country and several cities named after him; Ferdinand Magellan has the famous straits. But Urdaneta has no such monuments.

Perhaps this is because Urdaneta didn’t discover how to get anywhere, but rather less glamorously but no less importantly discovered how to get back. Until 1565, no fleet had succeeded in sailing east from Asia back across the Pacific to the Americas. It was Urdaneta, a survivor of earlier expeditions, who first worked out the right winds and currents across the uncharted waters of this vast ocean. His discovery was called the tornaviaje, or ‘return trip’.

Lee Fook Chee’s Hong Kong: Photographs from the 1950s is a remarkable book with many levels of meaning. It tells the story of a lone immigrant photographer and presents his collection of photographs portraying 1950s Hong Kong. A photo book, and of the highest standards at that, it also brings sharp and fresh research into the social history of the place that invites scrutiny on how it compares itself sixty years later. The entire book, its sum greater than its parts, will delight therefore not only photography aficionados but anyone with a serious interest in Hong Kong.